After advancing to the Final Four 15 times in the last 16 seasons, it’s as inevitable as night following day that CSKA Moscow will be among the leading contenders for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title once again. The incredibly consistent Russian side will be looking to secure the top spot at the end of the regular season for the second consecutive year, but faces some major competition along the way. Here are some games to watch out for.
Round 5: Favorite foes
There have been few better or bigger European basketball rivalries in recent years than CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus, and a treat is in store when Coach David Blatt and star guard Vassilis Spanoulis head to the Russian capital for a must-watch Round 5 showdown. There have been no less than 14 meetings between the teams in the last six and a half years, with four of those coming at the Final Four – all won by Olympiacos. But CSKA has been otherwise dominant, winning 8 of the last 10 non-playoff meetings and will look for an early-season boost by overcoming Olympiacos again in early November.
Round 8: Revenge in the air?
Professional athletes will tell you that they are not motivated by revenge; they prefer to concentrate on their own game rather than being overtaken by the negative energy of bad thoughts towards opponents. But that theory might be tested in Round 8 when CSKA welcomes traditional rival Zalgiris Kaunas. Even if it’s not exactly a matter of revenge, the Russian team will at least feel there is something to prove after the last meeting between the teams, an unusually competitive third-place game at last season’s Final Four in Belgrade, won by Zalgiris on the final buzzer to spark delirious celebrations from its travelling fans. The Lithuanian champion has now won three of its last four games against CSKA and the hosts will surely be extra-determined to prove a point.
Round 15: Midway thriller
The midway point of the regular season – and the end of 2018 – will arrive in style as CSKA travels to take on Panathinaikos Athens in the middle of the festive season. Two of European basketball’s most successful clubs will be eager to reach the halfway stage on a winning note, and there is major potential for a big battle between two power-packed rosters. From Nick Calathes and Keith Langford against Sergio Rodriguez and Nando De Colo in the backcourt to James Gist against Kyle Hines inside the paint, everything about this matchup makes it a game to miss at your peril.
Round 22: A Madrid rematch with plenty at stake
A rematch of last season’s semifinal is on the menu in Round 22, with reigning champion Real Madrid heading to Moscow for the last game before the traditional February break. The two teams will have already met – CSKA travels to the Spanish capital in Round 10, but this contest could be even more significant: it comes at the time of year when the leading teams can be starting to secure playoff berths, and it would be a major surprise if CSKA and Madrid are not among those fighting to do so. But perhaps even more significantly, the vital prize of home-court advantage is likely to be up for grabs, so we can expect a major battle in this encounter.
Round 28: Everything to play for?
If home-court advantage – or even playoff places – are still being contested as late as Round 28, Fenerbahce’s trip to Moscow could yield a classic encounter. Old coaching partners Dimitris Itoudis and Zeljko Obradovic would probably choose anyone else to see at this stage of the season than each other, and if either team still has regular season goals to reach, we can expect old friendships to be placed firmly to one side: given the opportunity to do so, for example, Itoudis would love to knock his mentor out of the race for home-court advantage… and vice versa. Whatever the scenario, two of the likely title candidates going head to head approaching the playoffs is a guarantee of thrilling basketball.